12 May 2020
FIRST MERITS REVIEW DECISION BY NCAT ON HOTEL TRADING HOURS: BIG WIN FOR STATION HOUSE HOTEL
In late February 2020, the Civil and Administrative Tribunal of NSW (NCAT), on appeal from the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA), approved an extension of trading hours for the Station House Hotel.
The extension of hours was from midnight until 2.00 am Monday to Saturday and from 10.00 pm until midnight Sunday.
ILGA had previously refused the hotel’s application for extended hours, on two essential grounds.
The first essential ground was that ILGA considered that there was a potential for the extended hours to cause disturbance to the local community as patrons came to, and left, the hotel deeper into the after-midnight period.
Second, ILGA had a concern that the grant of the application would increase gambling-related harm. In this regard, ILGA pointed to the lower socio-demographic metrics of the local community and the relatively high gaming spends in Campsie and the LGA.
On the question of potential disturbance to the neighbourhood, the applicant commissioned two ex-senior police officers to undertake surveillance of the hotel.
Each ex-officer found that the hotel was well run, with few incidents on premises and low rates of crime in the general vicinity. Each ex-officer observed patrons leaving quietly and without causing disturbance to neighbours.
To further minimise the potential for disturbance, the applicant offered additional conditions on the licence as follows:
• Minimum 75 patrons after midnight.
• Two security officers after 10.00pm.
• Only background music after midnight.
• Courtesy bus from 10.00 pm on nights of late trade.
The applicant provided a petition in support of the application, signed by over 600 patrons.
On the problem gambling issue, the applicant provided evidence of extensive harm minimisation measures adopted at the hotel, including a self-exclusion scheme. Despite the existence of the scheme, the licensee had not been approached by any patrons to self-exclude.
Senior Member Isenberg of NCAT granted the application for extended hours. In doing so, the Senior Member gave particular weight to the signed petition, as demonstrating that the weight of public expectation favoured extending trading hours. The Senior Member also noted that the local Council had granted development approval for the extended hours.
The Senior Member found that there would be other public benefits, including giving patrons a wider degree of choice of venues, affording additional convenience to Station House patrons and avoiding the need for patrons to go to other venues to enjoy late-night facilities. The grant of the application would also enhance competition between venues.
Senior Member Isenberg found that there was no evidence that problem gamblers frequented the Hotel.
There was evidence of significant “migration” of patrons to 3 other local venues when the Station House closed at midnight. The Senior Member found that if there were problem gamblers, it is likely that those problem gamblers would be among the people migrating to the other venues late at night. If so, requiring a midnight close for the Station House would not be likely to be effective in stopping problem gamblers from continuing to gamble.
The Senior Member accepted the hotel’s argument that allowing people to stay in the Hotel for longer would facilitate patron monitoring and therefore enhance the prospects of identifying signs of problem gambling. The opportunity for longer patron monitoring would be lost if patrons were required to leave at midnight.
On balance, the Senior Member found insufficient evidence of likely liquor-related harm or gambling-related harm to outweigh the significant public benefits likely to flow from granting the application. Accordingly, the Senior Member found that the overall social impact of granting the application would not be detrimental to the community. The Senior Member proceeded to grant the application, subject to the conditions that had been offered by the applicant.
ILGA has not appealed against this NCAT decision.
This is the first case in which a decision of ILGA on trading hours has been reviewed and overturned by NCAT.
Hatzis Cusack Lawyers, who acted for the applicant throughout the process, congratulates the owners, Iris Capital, on their success in this application.